Cigarette smoke, alcohol, drug use and junk food

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My research on cigarette smoke leads me to the following conclusions: direct smoking results in about 443,000 fatalities in the U.S. each year; inhalation of second-hand smoke causes about 46,000 deaths each year (breathing second hand smoke can result in sudden death syndrome in children, ear infections, and asthma); in adults, cigarette smoke can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and a variety of other health problems, including development of dementia.

An estimated 20 percent of the U.S. population smoke cigarettes. I have no idea of the percentage of people who smoked when I was growing up during the 1930s and 1940s, but I am reasonably confident that a large majority of adults were smokers.

Both my parents smoked as did most, if not all, of their friends who visited our house. I was thus subjected to second-hand smoke frequently, on a daily basis, throughout my childhood.

I, myself, began smoking during my freshman year at Auburn and was a pack-a-day smoker until about two years ago. I continue to smoke, but no more than five times daily. I guess it’s a miracle that I’ve suffered only one serious illness during my 80-plus years of life: colon cancer. The cancer was confined to the interior of the colon, and Dr. Alan Lazenby expertly removed it.

According to the Communicable Disease Center, obesity related illnesses result in more deaths, 112,000 annually, than second-hand smoke. Illegal drug use accounts for an average of 44,727 fatalities, and misuse of prescription drugs kills 36,000. Alcohol overconsumption is responsible for 23,199 fatalities, not including alcohol related automobile accidents, that kill 26,000 people.

Public health activists should also take note of potential health problems associated with consumption of soft drinks. Sugar sweetened soft drinks constitute the single largest food source of calories in the U.S. Diet sodas contain no calories, but are equal to sugary sodas in contributing to diabetes type two, conditions leading to heart disease and even obesity. Consuming one diet soda each day increases the risk of developing diabetes type two by 67 percent and conditions leading to heart disease by 36 percent. Diet sodas decrease the ability of the kidneys to filter impurities from the blood, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Health experts also report that drinking more than one soda of either kind per day increases the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. The effects of the syndrome consist of a cluster of symptoms, including an enlargement of the waistline, high blood pressure and higher concentrations of blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood fats, called triglycerides. Percentage increases after four years average 44 percent.

The public is constantly reminded by anti-smoking activists about the hazards of cigarette smoke inhalation, and they advocate increases in the already sky-high taxes smokers pay to satisfy their urge to smoke.

I wonder why the anti-smoking crusaders are ignoring the hazards to public health attributable to consumption of soft drinks and why they are not pushing for an increase in taxes on the drinks. Even our First Lady, Michelle Obama, an outspoken advocate of protecting the health of our children, has to my knowledge said little or nothing about how consumption of soft drinks can contribute to obesity and other health problems in children, and for that matter in grown-ups, too. (In fairness and in the interest of disclosure I should reveal that I stopped drinking soft drinks more than 50 years ago, when the cost rose from a nickel to six cents for a six-ounce bottle.)

My research also leads me to conclude that in nearly every retail outlet in the country in which food stamps are accepted, the stamps, or SNAP entitlement cards, soft drinks, candy, cookies, potato chips and other edible items having no nutritional value can be purchased using the stamps or cards. New York City disallows soft drinks to be purchased, and Florida’s legislature recently considered a bill that would disallow purchase of junk foods, including soft drinks, with food stamps, but it failed to pass.

Quite a few postings on the Internet on the subject reveal an increasing dissatisfaction about how food stamps are being used. Exemplary is one posting which stated, “Food stamps give people limitless flexibility to stock up on candy, chips, and soda, but won’t allow them to devote one penny to buy lightly prepared foods such as prepared salads and roasted chicken.”

In my opinion, common sense dictates that changes in what can and cannot be bought with food stamps are warranted.

 

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept. of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also co-chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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